Bishop regrets use of corporal punishment as a teacher

“Tough regime” at boarding school described in new documentary

Bishop John Kirby. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Bishop John Kirby. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times


Bishop of Clonfert John Kirby has expressed his regret at the use of corporal punishment during his time as a teacher in a Co Galway secondary school.

“Corporal punishment was still the order of the day,” Dr Kirby has said, referring to the late 1960s, when he taught mathematics at Garbally College in Ballinasloe.

“I regret that at this stage, but that was the way it was at the time,” he has told former pupil Ollie Jennings in a radio documentary that is due to be broadcast on Galway Bay FM later this week.

Mr Jennings, manager of musical group The Saw Doctors, interviewed Dr Kirby and a number of teachers and former pupils for the documentary, The Class of ’69.

Tough regime

Dr Kirby refers to the “tough regime” at the boarding school – a fact confirmed by former French teacher Jeanette Ryan, who said she preferred to use the powers of persuasion.

Audio from The Class of '69, produced by Ollie Jennings

“ I could not understand why the males in the school, who were a lot bigger and stronger than I was, could not revert to the same, rather than use a stick,” she says.

Pupils had to wake for daily Mass at 7am, and those who were late were “caned on the stairs”, according to a former pupil, Michael Jennings. “On the one hand, you’d have the Latin Kyrie Eleison and then, swish, swish, crack – guys getting caned at 7.35am,” he said.

Alumni interviewed

Classmates, including former Irish and Lions rugby captain Ciarán Fitzgerald, former Fianna Fáil minister Noel Treacy, novelist Desmond Hogan, and All Ireland hurling winner Sean Silke, were also interviewed.

Mr Treacy describes how he was knocked unconscious by Mr Fitzgerald, then also a junior boxing champion, at an exhibition boxing match in the school.

Mr Fitzgerald, who was coached by Dr Kirby and the late Fr Kevin Ryle, describes how he liked rugby for its “physical contact” and “the fact that you could nearly get into a fight legally”.

Mr Fitzgerald also played the part of Bill Sykes in a school performance of Oliver.

The Class of ’69 by Ollie Jennings will be broadcast on Galway Bay FM on Thursday at 11.10am.